Granada offers the best of Spain
Scenic city at the foot of the Sierra Nevada combines Moorish palaces, historic districts, fine restaurants and stylish shopping
THIS ancient Moorish stronghold is today one of Andalucia’s most scenic cities, with a dramatic setting in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, crowned by the graceful Alhambra palace.
British Airways recently started a new route from London City Airport – reinstating a direct air link from the UK that has been absent for the past three years.
It will fly four times a week from London City to Federico García Lorca Airport in Granada, 15km west of the city centre (granada_airport.com). The main alternative is a flight to Malaga followed by a two-hour bus journey.
Buses from Granada airport into town are operated by Autocares José González (autocaresjose gonzalez. com; 5.25am- 8pm daily) taking around 40 minutes to reach the Cathedral of Granada; single fare 3 (R39). Taxis cost 25.
Granada was the last bastion of Al-Andalus – the southern section of Iberia that was conquered by North Africans in AD711 and ruled by them for four centuries.
After Córdoba and Seville were reclaimed by the Catholic kingdoms in the 13th century, Islamic refugees fled to Granada, where the Nasrid Emirate had established a separate state for themselves. The Nasrids had taken up residence in a lavish royal palace high up on a hill in the heart of the city. They reigned for more than 250 years from the Alhambra – which still dominates the city today – before finally succumbing to the besieging Catholic monarchs (Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile) in 1492. It was the last city to fall and endures today as the place where the old Moorish Spain feels most present.
The Albaicín district is particularly evocative. Rising on a hill north of the Alhambra with sugarwhite houses and steep, slender streets, it was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1994, along with the ancient citadel.
To the south is the atmospheric Realejo quarter, where the Jewish community settled during the Moorish period, and the modern Centro district, with its bountiful boutiques and tapas bars. The main tourist office (turgranada.es) is at Plaza del Carmen.
For sheer grandeur, spend a night on the site of the Alhambra at the Parador de Granada (para dor.es). Housed in a 15th-century convent on the hill, it’s now a fourstar hotel with startling terrace views over the city (doubles from 195, room only).
In Albaicín, Casa Morisca on Cuesta de la Victoria 9 ( hotelcasamorisca.com) is a characterful retreat with rooms around a central courtyard. Doubles from 100, room only.
For a budget option, aim for the colourful tiled exterior of the Hostal La Ninfa on Plaza Campo del Principe (hostallaninfa.net), with rustic rooms and doubles from only 40, room.
Wander the whitewashed houses and winding streets of the Realejo. When the Moors still held sway, this old quarter on the southern flank of the Alhambra was known as Garnata al- Yahud ( Granada of the Jews), so strong was the Jewish population here at the time. The two religions managed to co-exist in relative peace, but when the Catholic monarchs took the city back, the Jewish community was expelled and the area rebranded as Realejo, in honour of the crown.
The Campo del Principe is the main meeting point. Lined with a handful of bars and restaurants, it also holds the Iglesia de San Cecilio, built on the site of an ancient mosque and named after the city’s patron saint.
From here, wind your way down the narrow streets of Calle de los Damasqueros and Cuesta de Rodrigo del Campo, to reach the new Sephardic Museum at Placeta Berrocal 5 ( museosefardidegra nada.es).
The museum was opened earlier this year by a Spanish couple who spent years fundraising to make it happen. It tells the story of this old Jewish neighbourhood (open 10am2pm and 5-9pm; entry 5.)
Lovers of seafood should make for the Plaza Pescadería, where fresh fish and jugs of sangria are served to tightly packed tables in the midday sun, with a jubilant band often on hand to entertain.
Oliver (restauranteoliver.com) is one of the best, with seafood paella for 15pp. Window shopping The Gran Víais is the place to wreak retail havoc. Here, you’ll find stylish Spanish fashion outlets like bimba & lola ( bimbaylola. es), smaller boutiques such as Susanna Cruz ( susannacruz.com), and international brands including Longchamp (longchamp .com) running on to Calle Reyes Católicos.
Start the evening on the Paseo de los Tristes, where Rabo da Nube joins a string of tapas bars under a vine- draped pergola beside the Darro River and the Alhambra. The city maintains the tradition of free tapas – anything from a few slices of manchego to a full plate of Iberico ham, bread and olives. Order a cerveza (beer, 2.50) and wait for your appetiser to arrive while the moon rises over the Moorish palace in front of you.
Next, tackle the steep, tangled streets of the Albaicín to unearth the restaurants with the best views of the Alhambra.
GO FIGURE: The Alhambra tiles contain most of the 17 mathematically possible wallpaper groups. MC Escher’s study of the Moorish use of symmetry in the Alhambra inspired his subsequent work on regular divisions of the plane.
VIVA: Beautiful gardens and delectable paella are Spanish institutions.